Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Are you ready?


A Sermon preached at
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and via live broadcast on 
Facebook at Sirach 26:10
ADVENT II - November 27 - Year B

I don’t know if you heard but, just this past November 2nd, several hundred people gathered in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, TX, the place where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. They were there because they had been told by their leader, Q-anon, that JFK, Jr. was going to emerge from anonymity to become Donald Trump’s vice president when the former president is reinstated.


It’s true. I mean, it’s true that several hundred people gathered for this. The prophecy foretold online, of course, did not come true. Before we scoff and laugh at our sisters and brothers, please consider that an uneducated reading of some of the passages from Revelations or this passage from Luke’s “mini apocalypse”, could lead one to believe that this sort of thing is entirely possible.


The church has been expecting Jesus to return for a long time, and he hasn’t done it yet. I suppose, with every passing year, the odds become greater that THIS year will be the year of the apocalypse and the second coming of Jesus. I suppose every generation expects the apocalypse is happening now, for them. After all, as Christian writer William Willimon once wrote, “It’s hard to stand on tiptoe for two thousand years”.


So, what are we to make of this morning’s passage from the 21st chapter of Luke’s gospel? How are we to avoid the temptation to see what’s happening in our world today through the lens of the apocalyptic chaos of this piece of scripture?


Well, the first thing is to understand that these words of Christian Scripture are poetry. 


Yes, poetry.


We don’t listen to poetry and try to drag meaning out of it. We let poetry be poetry. We let its images dance a seductive dance over our imagination and creativity. We let it carry us to places deep in the inner recesses of our memory where the sacred lives.


Apocalyptic passages, like poetry, challenge reason and pull us to consider what is possible and what is impossible. 


That’s what Jesus is doing here in this passage. As C. S. Lewis once wrote—Jesus is describing a God without disguise who comes at us so unmistakably that he will “strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.”


And, Jesus is asking, “Are you ready?”


Ready not just for the first coming of Jesus as a sweet babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, but ready for His coming again into your hearts as a light into these dark days.


So allow me take you where this amazing piece of apocalyptic poetry from Jesus took me as I considered what is happening in the world, what is happening in my life, and how it is I am to prepare for this Season of Advent.


I was seven or eight years old (not so very long ago!), the oldest of four, when I discovered the truth about Santa Claus. 


I didn’t mean to. I was just exploring my house for a quiet place to hide from my younger siblings so I could read my books in peace when I found that the door to the attic was unlocked. I climbed slowly up the stairs and scanned the room quickly and found a few spots, actually, where, with the addition of a blanket and pillow, would be most acceptable.


That’s when I saw it. 


There, over in the corner, hidden under a blanket were some of the toys we had asked Santa to bring for Christmas. I was confused and devastated. My carefully constructed fantasy world caved in on itself.


It was the end of my childhood innocence as a whole Pandora’s box of questions came flooding out at me: Why had my parents lied to me? Why didn’t they just tell me the truth? I mean, did they think I’d never figure it out? Did they think I was that dumb?


Just then, my mother came up the stairs and put her arms around me. She didn’t try to explain or excuse it. She just said, “I’m so sorry you had to find out this way. We meant to tell you earlier. We thought we still had some time. We never meant to hurt you.”


I believed my mother when she said my parents never meant to hurt me. I later figured out for myself that this is what happens when you take poetry and metaphors literally. 


People can get hurt.


Anyway, my mother said now I was old enough to help her wrap the presents for the younger ones and begged me not to tell them what I had learned the hard way. She promised that she would make sure to tell them before they found out on their own.


Not only that, she said, but now I was old enough to have my own room.


Well, THAT was a Christmas miracle I NEVER expected.


I mean, we lived in a small tenement apartment on the second floor of my grandparent’s house. There were two bedrooms. There were four kids. My parents had converted the parlor into their bedroom. My baby sister slept in a crib in their room. My younger sister and I slept in twin beds in one bedroom. My younger brother – whom we called, between clenched teeth, ‘The Little Prince” – slept in the other bedroom, which he had all to himself. Grrrrrr.


So, to trust that another bedroom would magically appear after learning about the lie of Santa Claus seemed like way too much to ask. My mother spread out her arms and said, “Are you ready?"


No, I was not at all ready for what she was about to say.


"Welcome to your new bedroom," she said. "Daddy is going to paint the walls and we’ve got a nice rug to put down and your godparents have given you their daughter, Judy’s bed because she’s gone off to college. You just wait and see.  It’s going to be lovely.”


And, it was. It was ready by Christmas Eve – my first night in my new room. I was so excited I could barely sit still through the evening’s festivities.


In all the excitement, it wasn’t until it came time for my parents to tuck me in that we realized there was one important feature missing.


A nightstand and a table lamp.


There was a light in the ceiling – right in the middle of the room – with a long string that hung down from it. Which meant that when the string was pulled and the light went out, the only light was that from the hallway at the bottom of the stairs. Which wasn’t great but it was okay. I mean, I had my own room. How cool was that?


“Good night,” my parents called from the bottom of the stairs. 


“Good night,” I called back.


And then, it happened. They closed the attic door and turned off the hall light. Suddenly, it was completely dark in my room. No, I mean pitch-black dark. I couldn’t see my hand in front of me which meant, of course, that now I could begin to see everything that wasn’t there.


Scary things. Monster things. Fear and foreboding sank over my body and settled deep into my bones. If there wasn’t any Santa Claus, were guardian angels a hoax as well? 


At age eight, I knew one true thing: There WERE monsters under my bed. I knew that if I got out of bed to pull the light string, they would get to me before I was able to get back under the covers.


And then, because I was like every eight-year old girl who ever lived in any time or any place anywhere, EVER, I had a flare for the dramatic. 

I KNEW – knew beyond a shadow of a doubt – that I. Was. Going. To. DIE.


I started to weep softly as I said my prayers, hoping against hope that there was actually a God and that hadn’t been all a lie my parents told, too.


And suddenly, I heard it. 


Despite all the noise in my head, I heard it. 


It was the unmistakable sound of the click of a wall switch. 


I opened my eyes and there, at the bottom of the attic stairs, was a little sliver of light at the bottom of the attic door. My parents had turned on the hall light which was just enough to comfort me and rescue me from the depths of my despair. 


And, ever since then, from that time forward to this very day, when I am anxious or frightened or just flat out terrified, I look for that little sliver of light. That, for me, is how I understand Jesus. That’s who I understand him to be – a little sliver of light in the midst of fearsome darkness.


As the Season of Advent moves steadily upon us and the world around us continues to swirl seemingly out of control, I hope that you can remember this little story. 

I hope you can remember that apocalyptic passages are, essentially, poetic passages and ought to be treated as such. We don't demand literal interpretations of poems, we ought not to demand them of apocalyptic passages.


Rather, I hope you will press your ear against the Gospel hive, listening for the buzz. Or, blindfold yourself and feel along the walls for a light switch of inspiration and insight.


Allow it to carry you away from the doom and gloom of life and into another metaphor of your life which is life-giving and salvific. 


You may discover there the small sliver of the light of Christ which dwells in you. 


To your great surprise, you may even learn that YOU are the sliver of light in the darkness that shines for others.


When Christmas finally arrives, like Jesus at his coming, may you strike “irresistible love” into the hearts of every living creature.


Are you ready? 




Sunday, November 21, 2021

I ain't done crashin'

The Feast of The Reign of Christ
Recovery Sunday
Bread of Life Sunday
November 21, 2021
St. Paul's Episcopal Church - Georgetown, DE
Facebook: Sirach 26:10 

Well, there are big doins this morning. Lots of stuff on the calendar. It’s the Feast of Christ the King. It’s Bread of Life Stewardship Sunday. And, in The Episcopal Church, it’s Recovery (from Addiction) Sunday. I want to begin this sermon on this very full, highly auspicious Sunday with one of my favorite stories from a friend in Texas:


After an aircraft is repaired, it must be test flown and certified OK by a pilot. An old Cessna Citation (Number 123WB) had some repair work done at Alliance airport and was taken for a spin by a test pilot.


As he approached for a landing, he saw the three green lights that say the landing gear is down and locked, but when he touched down the gear collapsed and he went screeching down the runway at 125 mph trailing a plume of sparks and smoke.

The tower operator saw him go by and shouted into the radio, “Citation Whiskey Bravo! Do you need assistance!?”

The pilot radioed back calmly while keeping the wreck lined up on the centerline, “I don’t know yet, I ain’t done crashin’.”


Hold that thought.


In this morning’s Gospel, we hear Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”


Now, for some unknown reason, the wisdom of those who put together the lectionary readings for today, left out the next line of this exchange between Pilate and Jesus.


In verse 37 Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.


In verse 38, Pilate asks a most profound question, “What is truth?”


What is truth? That’s the question that has plagued humanity since The Garden. When confronted by God about who took a bite of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam fudged the truth and said, “Well, Eve gave it to me.” And Eve, not to be outdone by her husband said, “But, the snake gave it to me.”


And, the dog ate my homework.


All truths – even the laws of science – are subject to revision but we operate by them in the meantime because they are necessary and they work. Until they don’t.


All truths – even biblical truths are also subject to revision. We know now what the original writers of the bible didn’t know then. The world is not flat. A person with a seizure disorder has a neurological disease and is not possessed by a demon. People who write with their left hand are not evil (sinister). People are not born with diseases like blindness or deformities because of  “the sins of the father”. Indeed, disease is not a punishment for sin.


The truth is that the bible is a guidebook, not a rulebook. The truth is that the bible is meant to lead us to the truth, not bind us to laws that have not been revised after revelations of the truth have come to light.


The truth is that we don’t often discover the deeper layers of truth until we’ve hit bottom – until we’re done crashin’.


Today is the Feast of Christ the King who said to the man who had his life in his hands, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” That’s an interesting turn of phrase, isn’t it? To ‘belong to the truth’? What does that even mean? ‘Belong to the truth’? I have come to believe that to belong to the truth is to allow the truth of God’s revelation in the Scriptures to shape our lives. See also: The Bible is a guidebook, not a rule book.


Today is also Bread of Life Sunday here at St. Paul’s. In a few moments some loaves of homemade bread will be brought forward for blessing. The bread will then be brought out to the parish hall where all those beautiful loaves of bread will be readied to be picked up along with an envelope containing financial information about St. Paul’s.


You will be asked to take home and enjoy your bread as you consider the financial support you will give to St. Paul’s this year as you discern the truth of your answer to the question, “What do I do with all that I have after I say I believe?”


Today is also Recovery Sunday in The Episcopal Church. This is the day when we recognize the problem of addiction in our culture and in our church. Addiction to substances like alcohol and drugs are the cause of untold numbers of heartbreak as well as death and destruction of life and families and property. Addiction to food, gambling, and tobacco also bring misery and death. Our cultural addiction to greed, avarice, envy, lust – and some would add pride – are destroying the very fabric of our society.


As anyone who is in a 12-Step Recovery Program can tell you, the path to recovery is a deeply spiritual process which involves not only facing the truth but belonging to the truth.


I want to end this sermon by telling you about the 12 Step Program I sponsored in my office as Chaplain at U Lowell. It was an open meeting, so I was graciously allowed to attend, even though I was technically not in recovery from substance addiction.

Within 4 weeks, my office was filled with faculty, staff and students who had no other weekday meeting to attend, except the one they affectionately called “The Noonie Loonies” at City Hall. 


One day, a young student, new to recovery, got up to share his story – witnessing is an important part of Recovery. At the end of his story, he finished with words that are familiar to many in AA:

“Well, I guess it’s true that you don’t always get what you want but you always get what you need.”

There was polite applause, a few slaps on the back from his friends, and then he sat down.

As the applause diminished, a voice came from deep in the crowded room.“Bull!” he said. (Well, that’s not exactly what he said, but he was in a chair and not in a pulpit.)

We all turned to see an older man, his face lined with a map of the last 100 miles of rough road he had traveled to get to this place in his Recovery. The room hushed to listen to what we knew would be truth and wisdom gained from the crucifying pain of Recovery.

“You don’t always get want you want,” he said, “You don’t always get what you need. You get what you get and you make the best of what you’ve been given. And,” he said, “be grateful.”


I’ve remembered what that man said all these 35 years later because I think those words belong to the truth. Sometimes, a profound truth like that comes to you when the landing gear of your life is down and locked, but when you touch down the gear collapses and you find yourself screeching down the runway at 125 mph trailing a plume of sparks and smoke.


Indeed, sometimes a moment like that leads to a serious crash when you are afraid that you’ve died and equally afraid that you haven’t died because you’ve come crashing face to face with a truth that you can no longer deny because you realize you belong to it. Because that truth belongs to you. Because you’ve been carrying it around for a long, long time and the only way out of it is all the way in.


When Jesus stood before Pilate, he had known the truth about himself for a long time. The truth belonged to him and he belonged to the truth. Pilate, who asked the question about truth, was about to find out the truth.  


He just wasn’t done crashin’. In fact, he had only just begun and he didn’t even know it.


Professor Frank Thomas writes that the Realm (or Kingdom) of God is “God’s government set up in the human heart. God comes into the human heart at the point of regeneration and makes that heart a holy habitation. . . When God occupies a human heart, then the kingdom has come to earth.”


I would add that the Realm of God comes very near when we, like Jesus, embrace and belong to the Truth, no matter how high the cost, regardless of the sacrifice it demands.


I think that man who spoke so many years ago at that Open AA meeting speaks a profound truth about the Realm of God, and about stewardship of our resources as well as recovery from addiction. It’s a truth to which we all belong:


You don’t always get want you want. You don’t always get what you need. You get what you get and you make the best of what you’ve been given. And, most importantly, be grateful.


Because, we ain’t none of us done crashin’ yet. And, I don’t know about you, but that’s why I come to church in the first place. And, that’s why I’m going to be as generous as I can be. Because I’m grateful.



Sunday, November 14, 2021

Hold Onto Hope


A Sermon preached at St. Paul's Church, Georgetown, DE
and simultaneously broadcast on Facebook: Sirach 26:10 
Pentecost XXV - Year B - November 14, 2022

Like any grandparent everywhere, I have a trove of pictures of my grandchildren that I treasure. But, because I am a grandparent in the age of technological advances, I also have videos of my grandchildren that I love so much I watch them over and over again.


One of my favorites is of my granddaughter, Willow, who was about 7 or 8 months old at the time. Her mother was reading that children’s classic, “Good night, Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown. Willow loved it. No, I mean, she really loved it. Well, I think it was equal parts loving the book and loving the sound of her mother’s voice and watching her mother’s facial expressions.


Her mother begins, “In the great green room/There was a telephone/And a red balloon/And a picture of . . .” Before she could turn the page and say, “ . . . a cow jumping over the moon,” Willow bursts into a full-throated belly laugh.


“And there were three little bears sitting on chairs . . .” (More bell laughs.) “And two little kittens and a pair of mittens.” (High shrieks of laughter now.) “And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush . . . and a quiet old lady who was whispering ‘hush’”.


At this point, Willow was laughing so hard the joy and delight rippled through her body, bringing tears to her eyes. She ended her laughter with a deep, wondrous sigh of pure, exhausted delight.


I showed this video to the man who had been my doctoral advisor. We were at lunch in a crowded restaurant but, as you may know, grandmothers are absolutely shameless. Well, some of us are, anyway; but I would not be convicted by a jury of my peers (I’m still crazy after all these years).


Fortunately, my friend was enjoying the video with me – it was hard not to laugh right out loud with Willow. He watched it all the way to the end and then said, “You know, that’s the way church should be. We should be so filled with joy to hear the good news of the Gospel that it makes us laugh right out loud and sigh with delight and wiggle in our seats and get up and dance in the aisle – right in front of God and everybody.”


I was thinking of that as I reflected on the story of Hannah, praying in the Temple. When we meet Hannah in this passage, she is in deep anguish. She is in such despair that she leaves the banquet table and goes to the house of God to pour out her silent desperation to God.


The priest, Eli, is there and, watching her closely, surmises that she is drunk and sends her away. Hannah persists and explains her devastation that, despite assurance of love from her husband, she is unable to conceive. Eli prophesies that God will favor her prayer, which time reveals to be true. Hannah conceives and bears the child Samuel, meaning, “God has heard”. Samuel became one of the last of the ruling Judges who anointed Saul the first King of Israel and later anointed David.


Imagine being so deeply, profoundly in prayer that someone might think you are drunk. Imagine being so desperate that you are – almost literally – “beside yourself”. Think about that expression. “I was beside myself,” we say to mean we are ‘out of control’.


Have you ever felt that you were so upset or angry or depressed that you were ‘beside yourself’? Have you ever felt ‘beside yourself’ in prayer? Based on some of what I’ve heard, I think some of you may have gotten a glimpse of that when we got up and danced the ‘Hokey Pokey’ in the church aisles a few Sundays ago.


In our second reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews – which reads more like a sermon than a letter/epistle – the unknown preacher is talking to a community which is surrounded by despair and struggling to maintain a sense of balance as other variations of the faith compete for dominance. 


This is all going on while Roman power is pressing its finger upon the church. The preacher is talking about worship with a deep sense of urgency. The subject of hope is not an idea, but a survival theology. Without this hope in Christ and belief in the transformation of the world, this ancient congregation can easily give in to despair.


Hope is the glue that kept Hannah together though she was beside herself with despair. Hope is the glue that kept the church together during the lowest points of cultural decay and corruption and the highest points of tension for the church.


We are in such a time, are we not? Sr. Joan Chittister describes it this way:


“We are living in a morass of present problems that never seem to go away. And we are surrounded by them. The cities are crumbling. Prices are getting higher but wages are stalled. The house is like a tomb now that kids have left home and we're feeling isolated. The globe is on the brink — or in the midst — of war everywhere. Women are still underpaid. Children are exploited. Misinformation is rampant. The very health of the environment is under assault.


Whatever happened to peace and quiet, friends and neighbors, democratic values and a sense of progress, a sense of contentment and security?”


This morning’s Gospel echoes the gloom and doom that overshadows the ancient community of Hebrews as Jesus tells the disciples of the destruction of the Temple. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down,” he tells them.


“When will this happen?” ask the anxious disciples, “Give us a sign!” And Jesus says, Oh, you’re going to hear about “wars and rumors of wars”, and there will be “famine and earthquakes,” but that’s not the end.


No, says Jesus! It’s not even the beginning. It’s only the beginning of the birth pangs! Or in the language every woman who has ever been pregnant will understand, it’s not ‘a labor contraction,’ it’s just Braxton-Hicks contractions – the birth pangs of the uterus getting ready for labor.


I think there cannot be one single generation that has not read this piece of scripture from Mark’s gospel and thought, “Yup! Well, here it is! The end is near! It’s right here in scripture! It’s all going to come to an end! Sooner rather than later.”


This current time is no different. So, take heart, my friends. All of the troubles of our time are very serious but they are not the end. They are not even the beginning of the end. They are the beginning of the beginning which has been beginning since Adam and Eve met a talking snake in the Garden of Eden, took a bite of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and got kicked out of Paradise and into the harsh realities of the world.


The good preacher in Hebrews reminds us that we have a great High Priest in Jesus over the House of God and all our sins are forgiven.  The preacher exhorts us, “let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The preacher is talking baptism here, my friends. The ancient preacher is reminding us of the promise of the forgiveness of ALL our sins in baptism.


This modern preacher is reminding us of the five promises we made in baptism. You can look them up in the BCP that’s right there in your pew (You may have noticed that I’ll use any excuse to have you open up that good book) on page304.

But did you also know about the Three Bears of Baptism? No, they’re not in the BCP. I learned this long ago as a child in Church School. The Three Bears of Baptism are:

Bear the name of Christ.

Bear your testimony.

Bear one another's burdens

As an adult, I’ve come to learn that within those Three Bears are the seeds of hope for Christ’s Body, the church.


The preacher in the Book of Hebrews continues, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.”


Hold fast to Hope. Hold fast to Hope. Remember the promises you made at Baptism. Remember to Bear the name of Christ. Bear your testimony. Bear one another’s burdens.


The preacher in the Book of Hebrews finishes, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Isn’t that really what it’s all about?


I know I’m going to sound like a nauseatingly proud grandmother but I think my little granddaughter knew something at 7 or 8 months old. Actually, I suspect we all knew that truth at that age but life somehow causes us to forget. Here’s the truth of it: The Good Book, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is GOOD NEWS. That’s what ‘gospel’ means – good news. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a rulebook but a guidebook. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is filled with joy and hope.


Beloved of God, in the midst of all the change in the world, hold fast to hope. In the midst of all the changes in our culture, hold fast to hope. In the midst of all the changes in the church, hold fast to hope. And, if someone thinks you’re crazy – or like Eli the priest thought of Hannah as she was ‘beside herself’ in prayer, that you’ve been drinking wine – just hold fast to hope.


Hope is contagious. Laughter is infectious. Joy is a communicable social disease. Contaminate yourselves with hope. Infect others with laughter. Come down with a strong case of joy!


One of the most joyful things about the children’s book “Goodnight, Moon,” is that, after you’ve said ‘goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere,” and you close the book and drift off to sleep, the next day you wake up to a brand new day, and that night, you get to say, “Goodnight, Moon,” all over again. I think my Willow knew that and took delight in the thought.


It’s not the end of the day. It’s not even the beginning of a new day. It’s the beginning of the beginning of your whole life, which is an amazing string of joyful beginning of endings and ending of beginnings, only to become the beginning of beginnings. Willow, I think, was young enough to still be in communication with the angels who told her that time is just an absurd human construct and the only reasonable thing to do us laugh at it – because soon enough, you’ll be a slave to it.


New life is always about to happen. In two weeks, Advent will be here and we will begin preparing in earnest for the labor pangs that will bring new life – the one we will call Emmanuel, God with us – even Jesus Christ, our great High Priest.


Let us find joy in that. And, hold onto hope.  



Sunday, November 07, 2021

When we all get to heaven


All Saints' Sunday
November 7, 2021
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and live broadcast on Facebook Sirach 26:10 


“The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God,

And no torment will ever touch them. . . . .”


I have heard this piece of scripture from the Wisdom of Solomon read at many funerals. These words have brought comfort and solace to those who grieve the loss of their loved one: They are at peace.


But, what of the souls of the unrighteous? What happens to the sinners and scoundrels? Are people who lied to or betrayed us also going to find themselves in the hands of God after death? Are the words of the old hymn right?


When we all get to heaven / What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus / We'll sing and shout the victory


I want to tell you a story I learned just last week, about what the courts had determined was an unrighteous man who is buried right here in St. Paul’s cemetery.


His name was Paul Edmund Savin, Jr. Not much is known about him. If an obituary was written about his life, it wasn’t preserved on the internet. I have a strong hunch that no one wrote one for him. We know that he was born on November 5, 1954 and died in April of 2001.  He was 47 years old.


I learned about him serendipitously when one of my heroes in the church just happened to stop by last Thursday. His name is Fr. Jim Lewis. You may remember him when he made headlines by taking on the chicken industry giants, Perdue and Tyson, and fought for improved, safe working conditions and better pay.


He also started a prison ministry – one in the prison and one for those who had served their time and were leaving prison. That ministry is still in existence today and has deep roots in this church. It’s called “The Way Home”. There are people sitting in this church this morning who will remember cooking and serving meals in the Parish Hall for the people who were the clients of The Way Home.


They were out of prison, many of them with no family to support them and only ‘friends’ who were too quick to entice them back into a way of life that would only lead them back into prison. This ministry, the one founded by Fr. Lewis, intended to help them find the way home, even if it was one they had to construct themselves – with help and support, of course of this important ministry.


All that is remembered about Paul Savin is that he was a client of The Way Home. He had been in prison – no one really remembers what got him there, or if this was his first or fifth time in prison. He was remembered as being homeless and, when he died suddenly – no one remembers why or how he died – there was no one to claim his body, much less make certain he had a proper burial.


Except, there was Fr. Lewis. And, there was this congregation of St. Paul’s. Fr. Lewis tells me that he had an office downstairs in the undercroft of the church (For those of you who are not Episcopalians or have just come to the Episcopal Church, ‘undercroft’ is a fancy word for ‘basement’.)


The Rev’d Michael Bye was the rector at the time and, I’m told, one had to be someone to be buried in St. Paul’s cemetery. My grandmother would call those people “big shots”.

Well, it would seem that Paul Savin was not a “big shot” but he had some people who believed that, despite whatever mistakes he had made, Paul Savin’s life meant something to God and a whole lot to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was hovering ‘round to make sure that one of the beloved of God was treated with respect and decency.


One of the things I love about The Episcopal Church is that, whether you are a saint or a sinner, a prince or a pauper, you get the same service with the same soaring, poetic language, right out of the same prayer book: The Book of Common Prayer.

We’ve made it easy for you and put everything together in a Service Booklet, but some day I hope you pick up that red BCP and thumb through it. It’s got everything you need to know about what it means to be an Episcopalian. And, since more than 80% of what is in the BCP comes directly from scripture, you could learn a little about what it means to be a Christian, as well.


Paul Savin had a proper burial in this very church, with the same prayers that have been used for Kings and Queens, Presidents and members of Congress, Generals and PFCs. His soul was commended to God in the same way yours and mine will be after you and I die.

If you happened to watch the televised funeral of Colin Powell from the National Cathedral, you noted that our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry used the same BCP that is used for those who could never dream of achieving what Colin Powell was able to accomplish in his lifetime.

That’s the same BCP that was used for the funeral of Matthew Shepherd, a young gay man who was beaten near an inch of his life and left to die on a fence in a frozen field in Wyoming.


Nevertheless, Michael Bye, the priest and rector of St. Paul’s at the time, blessed Paul Savin’s body which was, no doubt, in a plain pine casket. No one really saw the casket because it was covered with the same beautiful white brocade pall as one of the dignitaries whose funeral was also held in this church.


Not only that, but Fr. Bye went one step further: he found the resources to purchase a cemetery plot for Paul Savin. If you take a walk in our cemetery, you’ll discover a headstone with his name on it – right there among all the other people whose souls have been commended to God.

When Fr. Lewis was out walking last Thursday, with long-time board member of The Way Home, Barbara Carter Del Mastro, and Dick Bennett, Fr. Lewis expressed surprise and delight that Fr. Bly had found the resources to have a gravestone to mark his grave – with his name and his time here on earth.


The name of Paul Edmund Savin, Jr., is engraved in stone. He may have been homeless, he may have been without family. But, there were some in the church who knew that he was someone. Paul Edmund Savin, Jr., was a child of God. He was one of what Jesus called the ‘anawim’ which is Hebrew for ‘beloved’. Paul Edmund Savin, Jr., was beloved of God.


When Jesus went to visit the grave of Lazarus, he asked the people to roll away the stone. Jesus asks us – the church – to roll away the stones that keep us apart, one from the other. Jesus asks us to see ourselves as one with each other and one with those who have gone on before us. Let no stone keep us apart – in life or in death.


After the prayers of the people, we will read the names of those who have gone on before us as two people will light a votive candle, representing the light of their lives and the Light Eternal where they now live. As each name is said, I will ask that you say, “Present” which confirms our belief that, as our Prayer Book says, “life is changed, not ended.” Our loved ones are here with us. Love never dies.


The spirit of Paul Edmund Savin, Jr., will take his place among all the other saints who will be remembered today. No matter what he did in life, the love of God surrounded him in death. The book of Wisdom tells us that it is the “souls of the righteous that are in the hands of God,” but Jesus tells us “(God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)


I believe those words of Jesus, and I believe the words of St. Paul in his letter to the church in Rome: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (and I will add, not even ourselves), will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

No one may remember much of his 47 years of life when he was on earth, but Paul Edmund Savin’s, Jr., presence in our cemetery reminds us of the unconditional love of God, which allows us tosing with confidence:


When we all get to heaven / What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus / We'll sing and shout the victory.


Let all God’s children, saint and sinner alike, say ‘Amen’.

Saturday, November 06, 2021

The UMC Split: Coming soon to your neighborhood

Well, it has started. The church signs are beginning to change in the Methodist churches in my neighborhood.

You can tell the . . . "conservative" (read: homophobic) . . . churches from the "progressive" ones because they have either gotten new signs that say, "Methodist Church" vs "United Methodist Church" or they have inelegantly taped over the "United" - apparently (hopefully) until the new sign arrives.

The interesting thing is that some have, in fact, gotten new signs which say, "Methodist Church" but they still have the highly recognizable UMC symbol of the cross and the flame. I'm told by my UMC friends that this is a breach of the separation agreement.

If a church has left the UMC, it is my understanding that they are not allowed to identify themselves as "United," nor are they allowed to use the logo.

It will be interesting to see who holds whom accountable and how this particular aspect gets argued. It reminds me of the law suit filed by Bishop Bill Wantland, now retired of the Diocese of Eau Claire, to keep the name "The Episcopal Church". He lost, but it was very telling where the whole ACNA thing was going.

I'm also told that some churches are leaving the UMC not (just) because of their "conservative" positions or their theology about the ordination and blessing of the marriage of LGBTQ people, but because it was financially more lucrative for them, given the value of the property which they are allowed to keep (having learned some hard lessons from their Episcopal kith and kin.)

It will be interesting to see who holds whom accountable and how this particular aspect gets argued. It reminds me of the lawsuit filed by Bishop Bill Wantland, now retired of the Diocese of Eau Claire, to keep the name "The Episcopal Church". He lost, but it was very telling where the whole ACNA thing was going.include LGBTQ people and their allies, friends, and families.

However, the conservative narrative is that the "united" part of the church wouldn't include their exclusive theological positions. That should sound familiar. That's exactly what the conservatives in TEC said. "You have to include us, but you have to get rid of those people or we'll leave - and sue you for the property."

I'm told that one local Methodist pastor echoed Ronald Reagan from the pulpit and preached "I didn't leave the United Methodist Church; the United Methodist Church left me."

Cute. And, not true. Although I think it a dubious distinction to be sure to align oneself with the likes of Ronald Reagan. I'm just waiting to hear that this pastor is preaching "trickle-down salvation" vs "sanctifying grace".

Any day now. Any day.

His is also the church which has taped over the word "United" in front of the word "Methodist" on the church sign out front. When I first saw it a few weeks ago, it literally hurt my heart. I remember hearing a small cry of pain escaping my throat when I first saw it.

I wondered what was going through the heart and mind and soul of the person as they put row after row of white tape over the word "united" - on both sides of the sign. Did that make them feel good? Feel awkward? Feel sad? Feel triumphant?

My wonderments turned into prayer from time to time. I didn't get a direct answer but the Holy Spirit did come and provide me with a measure of consolation and hope - and laughter.

It is getting dark earlier and earlier these days here in the Midlantic. I was driving home from some meeting or another which meant that I was going to drive by that Methodist Church at night.

As the lit church sign began to appear on the windshield of my car, I did a double-take. The sign said, quite clearly, "United Methodist Church".

What? Had something happened? Did they have a change of heart which led to a change of mind?

I slowed down as I drove by the sign.

A closer look revealed that the "United" wasn't quite as bright as "Methodist" but when the light illuminated the darkness, the tape could no longer completely blot out the word "United".

There it was - "United" - just waiting for the light that the darkness could not overcome.

Now, like any good Episcopal priest, I can wring at least two, maybe even three sermons out of one metaphor, but I think in this case, there's really only one sermon worth preaching about that sign.

I think God is just slapping her ample thigh and thoroughly enjoying the antics of the Holy Spirit, while Jesus is chuckling behind his facepalm.

I still pray daily for our Christian kith and kin in the Methodist Church, just as I pray for the dioceses and priests and people in The Episcopal Church who are not yet 'on board' - much less united - with the whole inclusivity thing.

I do think, however, that one day the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus will be answered by God's people, and we all will be one, just as God and Jesus are one, no matter how much tape we use to try to cover up our unity.

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (Jn 8:12)